Cowboys and Vaudevillians: Crazy for you at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre

30th July (evening) preview performance

Is this just another jukebox musical, we ask, as we try to work out how ‘Crazy for you’ came into being. In a recent interview played on Elaine Paige’s Radio 2 show, Ken Ludwig describes how he was hired to adapt the 1930s Gershwin musical ‘Girl Crazy’ and found himself deciding to rewrite the whole thing. He retained one element of the plot, the notion of a ‘city slicker’ going West, and added a few extra songs (well who could blame him?) to create this Tony Award winning musical nearly twenty years ago.

Whatever it is, this is a highly successful formula: a New York banker who is desperate to break into showbiz, a troupe of gorgeous dancing girls, and a ghost town in Nevada full of characters that wouldn’t be out of place in ‘The Far Side’. By uncanny coincidence, the town of Deadrock has a disused theatre with a mortgage that’s about be foreclosed, and a population in need of some inspiration.  Desperate to win over Polly, the only girl in town, our young hero suggests they put on a show to make money (did we say it was a comedy?) and invites the entire cast of ‘Zangler’s Follies’ over to help out.  The scene is set for romance and hilarity, punctuated by some very well-known songs.

Funnily enough, we spotted David Grindrod amongst the creative team on the website. Better known to us as the casting director on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s infamous TV casting shows (how does that work?), we have to forgive him his past misdemeanours and give him ten out of ten for finding such an excellent cast for this show.  The dancing, singing and acting were all of a very high quality, and a quick glance at the biographies tells you this is an impressive gathering of seasoned theatrical performers.

Sean Palmer (spookily enough actually born in Nevada) combines infectious enthusiasm with real dancing prowess as Bobby Childs.  How refreshing to see full-length dance sequences, reminiscent of Gene Kelly’s fantasy scenes in ‘An American in Paris’, done with complete sincerity.  His sweetly sung renditions of ‘Crazy for you’ and ‘They can’t take that away from me’ made these old standards sound like freshly minted tunes.  Most of his performances have been on Broadway so we felt particularly lucky to see him in action on this side of the pond.  Not many actresses can carry off being hauled aloft in a bathtub by a chorus of cowboys whilst singing, but Clare Foster brings a no-nonsense vitality to the role of Polly, with a touching rendition of ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ which allows us to see her vulnerable side.

The main source of glamour comes from Zangler’s follies, and they certainly deliver the goods with a series of vivacious dance numbers which brilliantly prefigure the superficial hedonism of Las Vegas.  They are also the perfect foils for the ‘motley crew’ of male town-dwellers who will make up the rest of the chorus in the show.  In the climactic number ‘I’ve got rhythm’, the entire cast indulge in a stomp-inspired dance number which uses all kinds of western paraphernalia as props and musical instruments.

David Burt is having a very good year.  Hot on the heels of The Kissing Dance and Mr Happiness, he delivers another entertaining turn as Bela Zangler, the love-struck impresario.  Zangler comes to Deadrock in pursuit of dance director Tess, and ends up losing everything putting on the show in an attempt to win her love.  Meanwhile, Bobby Childs is impersonating him to win over Polly.  One of the highlights of the show is Zangler’s duet with ‘himself’ as the two come face to face and drunkenly lament their lost loves with a song and dance sequence which certainly wins the prize for ‘most imaginative use of bar-room chairs’.

The production team behind this show may well have their eyes on a third Laurence Olivier Award following their success with ‘Hello Dolly’ and ‘Into the Woods’ in previous years, and on this viewing, one or more awards would be well-deserved – we would be hard-pressed to choose.

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3 Responses to Cowboys and Vaudevillians: Crazy for you at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre

  1. Pingback: Time for a ragtag rag: Ragtime at the Regent’s Park open air theatre | rageoffstage

  2. Pingback: Backwood bachelors: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | rageoffstage

  3. Pingback: Going for Bold: ‘The Busker’s Opera’ sets up its pitch at the Park Theatre | rageoffstage

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